How can you be "into" sci-fi when science itself has turned into a political hell-hole?
Turns out that's a more interesting question than you might think.
I've written many times here about the artistic and fantastical dimensions of science fiction.
Even the Campbell Axis, starring Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein, which put problem-solving stories on the map, wasn't all that scientific.
These stories may have imagined themselves as faithful to the best current science of the day.
The key word there is "imagined". Stories from 1940 can no longer claim best nor current science. These old stories rarely stand the test of time for that reason alone. As imaginary tales of interesting stuff happening, there are some hold-outs.
They strike today's readers as quaint... and despite all efforts to distance these "serious" efforts from the sloppy planetary romances and space-fantasies of Burroughs and Doc Smith, they are no less out of date than Jungle Venus.
That's good and bad, in a way.
The bad part is that a fetish for one decade's science quickly turns into fantasies of past years.
The good part is that science is fertile ground for speculating about new problems and conflicts... new settings... and even new characters.
Science itself is a blade that cuts the user
Properly-done science, that is.
I'm not talking about The Science, which is a combination of institutional rot in academia and corporate-industrial profit motives joined at the hip to a technocratic mass-media precision engineered to generate public consensus.
I'm talking about honest to God question-asking followed by honest inquiry on the part of interested and competent investigators.
Good science does still exist. You may not find it on the lips of your local media-friendly mouthpiece, but it is out there if you know where to look for it.
The punchline is that science done best asks more questions than it answers.
Science done best is more about the serendipitous accident than a rationally-planned and organized enterprise.
The idea that science shows us a "house of facts" is unscientific dogma. If you want an approved canon of facts you may as well go talk to your local priest.
Science done best is wild, unpredictable... and destructive.
That's the fundamental paradox of science
Every new discovery increases our ignorance 100 times.
There's a "push" and a "pull" always going on.
Yes, science does show us new things. And when those things work, we can do things with them. Scientific facts transform into design and engineering.
But that's not all. Science also throws hot acid on existing beliefs.
Under the baleful eye of the scientist, no settled fact is safe from future criticism.
The very idea of "settled science" is metaphysics. Theology. Dogma. Handed down from a caste of priestly guardians.
The scientist is a destroyer. Science destroys by asking tough questions.
Every new creation is the death of an old belief.
And science doesn't care too much about which beliefs... or whose... it murders.
What's the draw to science fiction?
It's the futuristic and technological aesthetics.
Science fiction at its best cooks up fantastic settings and problems that pop up when human beings dig deep into Nature with science and try to master it with technology.
A great number of sci-fi writers and fans are still under the illusion of the Enlightenment's ideology which connects Reason and Science with human progress.
If we just know enough and think better, we can think and know our way to a "better world".
If only it were that easy.
Every rational step forward produces 1000 unanticipated consequences.
"Experts say" is not how a serious argument begins. A survey of what we currently know tells you nothing – exactly nothing – about what we should expect to happen next.
It does tell you a great deal about the person making the argument. It indicates an unfounded faith in the pronouncements of the priestly class.
I don't use that word faith lightly. It's faith that you, or your experts, have understood the deep regularities of Nature... that you've understood it to a degree that no scientific explanation ever could... by looking at what has happened.
The most interesting stuff happens in the future.
Looking to expert knowledge is like running a dozen red lights and assuming that the next one won't result in a fatal high-speed car crash.
All well and good to be rational and look at the evidence... until that Mack truck howls out of the dark and into the driver's side of your car.
Every theory fails when it meets a Mack truck. The question is how many bodies it's going to leave in the streets.
The best sci-fi stories push the Enlightenment dogma to its limits
You need to talk about science and reason for sure.
That's the whole point of the sci-fi genre – the belief that human ingenuity and reason can make some sense out of the whirling buzzing bloom of Nature's chaos.
That means addressing the other side of science. The part that undermines all certainty, all belief, all that is stable.
That confrontation between Man and Machine is central to the whole thing.
Think of the films and books that hit so hard that everybody knows them.
Every single one of them uses technology to put humans into conflict with themselves and with the natural world.
This is the thematic core of sci-fi.
Cool settings, problems created by science and technology, and the effects of both of these on your characters.
Science fiction is an artistic, aesthetic, statement
Like this article? – You'll get to read all the member-only posts if you join us.
Want to leave a comment? You'll need to join us inside the the private rogue planet community.
Members can discuss this article over at the rogue planet zone on SocialLair.